Kiwi Real Ale
Despite some growing pains and quality issues, there are, however, many talented brewers in New Zealand, and two of the best are in the Auckland area.
One is Keith Galbraith’s cask brewery, Galbraith’s Alehouse, brewing the nation’s only cask-conditioned “real ales.” Galbraith spent a good portion of his life in the wine business, when he was bitten by the beer bug. He apprenticed for a year with Bob Hudson at Larkins Brewery in Kent, England, to learn his craft, before returning in 1995 to open his brewpub. Galbraith’s is located in the old Grafton Library in Auckland. Because the building has a dark wood interior, it immediately sets the mood as an English-style pub and the appointments inside will further persuade that you’re been transported to a London pub.
The brewery can be seen as you enter the building, through a large glass window. From there, Galbraith’s brews at least five English-style ales and two European-style lagers. All of them were spot on, especially Bob Hudson’s Bitter (named for his mentor) and the Bellringer’s Best Bitter, both of which were delicate and full-flavored. The Bob Hudson has grassy hop notes, and was more of an ordinary bitter, whereas the Bellringer did just that; rang your bell with terrific balance and a beautiful dry-hopped presence. The beer originally had another name, but was an immediate favorite of the group from a local church that rang the bells, who were some of the earliest regulars when Galbraith’s first opened. Other standouts include the Grafton Porter, a jet-black malty porter, and Resurrection, a Trappist-style ale with spicy, herbal notes and very complex flavors.
In addition to their own beers, Galbraith’s also carries a wide range of other New Zealand and imported beers, both on draft and in bottles. With decent pub grub, a comfortable atmosphere that includes nook and crannies, two fireplaces and an outdoor beer garden, this is the type of place to get lost in for an entire afternoon or evening.
Near the edge of the city limits, in Riverhead, is Galbraith’s polar opposite, the Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant. Opened just three years ago by Stephen Plowman, the restaurant is thoroughly modern in both décor and cuisine, with an emphasis on local ingredients wherever possible. The menu includes esoteric fare as well as new takes on traditional dishes, and everything tastes homemade and delicious. The brewing equipment, though much less modern, and looking as if designed by MacGyver, still manages to create some terrific beers.
Plowman makes an interesting range of beers, and likes to play around with his seasonals. His regular beers include a Kölsch-style ale, an American pale ale, an Irish red and a German-style schwarzbier. His seasonal offerings have included an Imperial IPA (big, hoppy beers are a veritable rarity in New Zealand), a Belgian-style tripel and a saison flavored with manuka tips, a local shrub sometimes also called a tea tree.
But Plowman’s most ambitious beer may also be his best. His Porter Noir is a barrel-aged beer, which may be the first beer in New Zealand to use Brettanomyces. He brewed a strong porter (6.6% ABV) and aged it in local Pinot Noir barrels for four months before bottling. In the bottle, Brettanomyces was added and left to bottle condition for another six months, before being released for purchase. It’s a wonderful beer, with rich, complex flavors of thick figs, raisins and the like, and strong Brett horse stable character. I can’t say for sure whether or not the people of New Zealand are ready for a beer so vastly different from their popular, but insipid, draught style. But ready or not, here it comes.
There is a new passion that’s immediately evident among New Zealand’s craft brewers, who want to create a vibrant beer community. Many have been to America or tasted our beers and, as a result, many point to the U.S. craft scene and say that we have become a model for a world in which a wide variety of beer can flourish. New Zealand seems poised to be one the next great brewing nations. It will be wonderful to see what the Kiwis brew over the next ten years.